Democrats in dissension over all-white 2020 frontrunners

Black and Latino voters stick by Biden and Bernie

Multiple things can be true. The Democrats’ system of selecting their nominee may indeed be outdated, resulting in it favoring conventional, in most cases white, candidates. But it’s also apparent that African American voters haven’t budged all year from Joe Biden and that Bernie Sanders has a strong following among Latinos. Voters point out that seeing themselves represented in a candidate isn’t everything they’re after this time around.

Underlying that devotion especially to Biden is the “electability” factor, which activists are quick to say is code for “white and male.” The theory is that with Trump in the White House, Democratic voters don’t want to gamble on trying to make history electing another “first.”

“You have to answer two questions when you’re running for president: One is should you be president and the other is could you be president. And if you are a white man you do not have to answer that second question,” said Addisu Demissie, Booker’s campaign manager.

Demissie said Booker is aware of the skepticism about whether Democrats are ready to nominate another black man after Obama. He said Booker’s candidacy is “premised on this faith that people are ready to vote their hopes and not just their fears.”

But, he added, “There is a fear that Donald Trump is an expert at exploiting the differences between us, the biggest historically of which is race in this country.”

When Harris dropped out, people inside and outside of Booker’s campaign, including former Harris supporters, saw him as the candidate who would carry her mantle. The two looked to each other for reassurance, taking comfort in the fact that they weren’t the only black candidate in the race like Obama had been, according to multiple people close to both candidates.

Despite Booker’s urgings that the DNC change its qualifications so more candidates can participate in next year’s debates, the party argues it’s “led a fair and transparent process” and made candidates aware nearly a year ago, to no objections, that the qualification criteria would increase.

As Booker has decried the debate qualifications and Castro has challenged Iowa and New Hampshire’s status as the first two voting states‚ citing that they’re 90 percent white, they’ve been met with this rejoinder: Obama did it, so the system isn’t stacked against you.

But Obama was potentially a “once-in-a-generation” candidate, said Andrew Gillum, the African American former mayor of Tallahassee, Fla.

“The question is, do you build the rules around [what Obama accomplished], or do you build the rules around more of what would be typical in this process,” said Gillum. “Sometimes when you’re the first, people get a taste of it, they feel like they checked that box, and then they turn very decidedly away from it.”

‘A bad look’

David Axelrod, who served as a close adviser to Obama, said he “can’t accept” that Obama will be the only nonwhite man to enter the White House for years to come. “I don’t think he was elected and the door swung closed behind him.”

“It is an awkward fact that the frontrunners are all white in a party that’s very diverse and a field that was the most diverse in history,” Axelrod said. “It’s a bad look.” But “I don’t know that there’s an institutional explanation for it,” such as the nominating structure, he said.

Howard Dean, the former DNC chair and presidential candidate in 2004, agreed with Axelrod that it’s not the image that Democrats would ideally project. But Dean disagreed about the nominating process: “New Hampshire and Iowa are a big problem.”

New Hampshire’s new law making it more difficult for students to vote by requiring a state ID is an “embarrassment,” said Dean. Already lacking in racial diversity, the state is now limiting young people from casting votes, he said.

“It’s an embarrassment to the Democrats who stand up for the right to vote, having our first primary there,” Dean said. “They’re going to be toast sooner rather than later.”

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